By Daniel Hunter

The latest research from the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has revealed that while the majority of UK office workers are concerned about the negative effects of software theft to the economy, only one-third (34 per cent) would report the use of illegal software in the workplace.

The research, conducted in October 2013, surveyed 200 office workers to gauge their attitudes towards software piracy and whistleblowing, revealed that most would be happy to take a lax approach to software theft at the office.

Of those that would not blow the whistle, one-third (36 per cent) stated that they wouldn’t report it in order to protect their jobs, 16 per cent to protect their reputations, and a further 30 per cent simply didn’t care. Interestingly, a sizeable minority (14 per cent) cited concerns about negative media coverage about whistleblowers as a reason why they wouldn’t blow the whistle.

Other key findings include:

- 63 per cent are concerned about the damaging effects of software theft on the economy

- Two-thirds (66 per cent) would not report their employer if they were using illegal software, representing little change from the 2012 survey (68 per cent)

- 57 per cent of workers are unaware of the law that protects whistle blowers

- Of those who would report misuse, over half (57 per cent) of them cited their belief in ‘good practice’ as the reason to make a report, while a further 27 per cent felt it was correct to stay within the law

- Half (52 per cent) of businesses have a formal policy in place on the illegal use of software in the workplace

Alex Hilton, FAST’s CEO, said: “While it’s encouraging that two-thirds of respondents are concerned about the damaging effects of software theft to the UK economy, the good news stops there. The majority of staff seem to be of the opinion that software theft in the workplace simply isn’t their problem. Looking at the reasons why someone wouldn’t report it, self-preservation seems to be the order of the day, with staff fearing for their jobs and their reputations. It’s also interesting to note the impact that high-profile whistleblowing cases have had on employee willingness to report software theft, with one in seven citing this as a reason for not blowing the whistle.

“Such concerns, however, are misguided. Indeed, not blowing the whistle may be counterintuitive. You are protected as a whistle-blower by law if you are a ‘worker’, and serious compensation can be payable if your employer acts illegally when a protected disclosure is made.

“Both employers and employees need to ensure that they are properly educated about the lawful use of software and the repercussions that illicit software use can bring. Failure to do so may mean a company paying twice; for licences plus damages for illegal historic use. Knowledge of a Director of unlicensed software used by the business could incur criminal liability for the business.”

Julian Heathcote Hobbins, General Counsel at FAST, added: “What is revealed by this research is a pretty depressing picture not only for the software industry but also many other content driven sectors such as music, film and games, vital to contributing to our economic success for the future.

“Workers are seemingly unaware of their rights when it comes to doing the right thing. You are protected. If you believe that software is being used in the workplace, and in particular, with the knowledge of a Director is going on, then get in touch with FAST.”

To be protected as a whistle-blower you need to make a ‘qualifying disclosure’. This could be a disclosure about:

- criminal offences
- failure to comply with a legal obligation
- miscarriages of justice
- threats to an individual’s health and safety
- damage to the environment
- a deliberate attempt to cover up any of the above

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